Loyalist attacks likened to pogrom
Attacks and threats against politicians over the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall have been likened to a “pogrom” by the deputy leader of the Alliance Party.
Speaking this morning, East Belfast MP Naomi Long, whose constituency office was the scene of a petrol bomb attack on PSNI officers last night, said the loyalist campaign of violence against her party was akin to fascism.
“It is absolutely appalling that anyone would attempt to murder two police officers who are simply there – not just protecting me or my office – but what they are trying to do is to protect the community in Northern Ireland from this tide of violence which threatens to drag us back into the abyss.”
Defending her party’s decision to propose a compromise motion to Belfast City Council which will see the union flag flown only on designated days, Ms Long acknowledged that some people would be unhappy at the decision.
“Flags and emblems are a very potent symbol of identity. They are not identity but they represent something that is very dear to many people and we recognise that,” she told Today with Pat Kenny.
Her party, she said, tried to find “an honourable compromise between nationalists on one side who do not want the flag to fly at all and unionists on the other who want it to fly every day”.
The compromise was “a proportionate reflection of the constitutional reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but at the same time paying due respect and regard to those who do not share that political view and who would wish it to be different.”
She said the decision was based on evidence provided by an equality impact assessment, advice from senior legal counsel and around “the issues of a shared future and how we are going to deal with the deep, deep divide in our community about how express our identity in ways that are respectful and tolerant and inclusive.”
“There has to be a line drawn in the sand for me,” she said.
“This is no longer about whether you are for the flag or against the flag. This is about whether you are for democracy and the rule of law or against it and there is only one side that we can be on in that debate,” she said.
Ms Long said politicians in Northern Ireland had “failed” to deal with the reconciliation project..
“We have failed to deal with the deep divisions that exist and as we build the future of Northern Ireland we are building it in an earthquake zone because there is a fault line that runs through our community that at the slightest upheaval can cause huge tremors throughout the community that threatens to bring all of this down around our ears.”
She said the circulation of some 40,000 leaflets in Belfast by the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party ahead of the vote, contributed to the “hysteria” which has surrounded the issue.
“There has been a lack of political leadership around these issues for some time. There has been inflammatory comment in the lead-up to this flags debate and indeed I would say there has been much inflammatory comment since the violence on the streets around this issue which has been deeply unhelpful.”
“I believe those leaflets contributed to the hysteria which was whipped up in advance of this vote.”
She said the leaflet campaign "very clearly" used inflammatory language accusing the Alliance Party of “ripping down” and “tearing down” the flag.
“Language which was being used again as recently as today by DUP elected representatives who on one hand condemn the violence but on the other hand launch vitriolic and blistering attacks on my party who are the subject of it,” she said.
“What we have seen in Northern Ireland over the last number of days has all the dynamics of a pogrom against the Alliance Party. It is completely unacceptable in 2012 that elected representatives of a [political] party are receiving death threats, their offices being burned, their homes being attacked, their families being threatened.”
“This is not what democracy looks like; it is not what loyalism looks like either. It is what fascism looks like and we need to stand firm in the face of fascism – united across these islands to say that this is not acceptable.”